JERUSALEM — The rabbi stood before the grave of the imam, weeping as he gave his eulogy. In life, Rabbi Michael Melchior said, Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish had promised him that he would never leave his side. In death, the sheikh had left him feeling as bereft as an orphan.
Sheikh Abdullah died in 2017, four years before the Islamist party he helped found, Raam, became the first independent Arab faction to join an Israeli government coalition. But the sheikh’s funeral and his unlikely friendship with Rabbi Melchior, as well as their below-the-radar attempts at religious-based peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians, were all part of an unexpected, decades-long back story of an effort by some Islamists to find a place within Israeli politics.
For Mansour Abbas, a politician standing in tears to the rabbi’s right that day, the sheikh’s death was one of several pivotal way stations in his journey to lead Raam into Israel’s government.
“At Sheikh Abdullah’s funeral and Rabbi Melchior’s speech, it hit me — that I need to be committed to Sheikh Abdullah and Rabbi Melchior’s joint approach,” said Mr. Abbas, who became Raam’s leader in 2018 and entered Parliament two years ago. The speech and the funeral “made me go from being a supporter and minor contributor to it to someone wishing to strengthen it and push it forward,” he said.
violent clashes in May. And Israel had just ended a brief war with Hamas, the militant group that holds sway in the Gaza Strip.
Both Raam and Hamas have roots in the same Islamist movement. And Raam’s leading influence, Sheikh Abdullah, was convicted and imprisoned in the 1980s for links to a militant Islamist group.
To those in and around Raam, its new role makes more sense in the context of Sheikh Abdullah’s spiritual journey since he left jail, when he had an ideological about-face and sought to use Islamic teachings to justify a more peaceful approach.
helped legitimize the idea of Arab participation in government by pursuing Raam’s support.
are fighting to restore momentum to a formal peace process that petered out in 2014. To them, Mr. Abbas’s political maneuver was a natural outgrowth of a long-term project of religious-based peace building begun by Sheikh Abdullah.
“My sheikh went through several stations in his life,” said Sheikh Raed, citing Sheikh Abdullah’s break with militance after leaving prison in the 1980s.
“The whole religious dialogue,” Sheikh Raed said, “started from that point.”
Born in 1948 in an Arab town in what became Israel, Sheikh Abdullah flirted briefly with Communism as a young man before turning more seriously to Islam.
In the 1970s, he founded the Islamic Movement, a group based in Israel that aimed to encourage the Muslim minority to deepen its faith and, ultimately, to create a society governed by Islamic law. The group also had a militant wing that carried out arson attacks on Israeli property.
But in the 1980s, he surprised his followers by pushing to establish better relations between Arabs and Israelis, within both Israel and the occupied territories.
participation of the Islamic Movement’s political wing, later known as Raam, in Israeli parliamentary elections. That caused a split in the movement, with some members forming a now banned splinter group that rejected participation in the Israeli parliamentary process.
But Sheikh Abdullah continued on a path of moderation, writing a book that rejected any religious justification for suicide attacks. He also began to work on several peace-building projects with Rabbi Melchior, then a deputy foreign minister in the Israeli government.
communal violence in the city of Acre, in northern Israel.
Understand Developments in Israeli Politics
Key Figures.The main players in the latest twist in Israeli politics have very different agendas, but one common goal. Naftali Bennett, who leads a small right-wing party, and Yair Lapid, the centrist leader of the Israeli opposition, have joined forces to form a diverse coalition to unseat Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
Range of Ideals. Spanning Israel’s fractious political spectrum from left to right, and relying on the support of a small Arab, Islamist party, the coalition, dubbed the “change government” by supporters, will likely mark a profound shift for Israel.
A Common Goal. After grinding deadlock that led to four inconclusive elections in two years, and an even longer period of polarizing politics and government paralysis, the architects of the coalition have pledged to get Israel back on track.
An Unclear Future. Parliament still has to ratify the fragile agreement in a confidence vote in the coming days. But even if it does, it remains unclear how much change the “change government” could bring to Israel because some of the parties involved have little in common besides animosity for Mr. Netanyahu.
In 2014, they coordinated to avoid religious violence in mixed Arab-Jewish cities when the Jewish day of atonement, Yom Kippur, fell on the same day as the Islamic celebration of Eid al-Adha, and tried to taper conflict during a low-level intifada the next year.
Mr. Abbas became involved in the initiatives and later developed a close relationship with Rabbi Melchior, speaking with him several times a month.
To the rabbi, these religious-based peace initiatives offered a way to move on from the secular-led diplomatic efforts of the 1990s and 2000s, which he said failed in part because they did not sufficiently include religious elements from the two populations.
“The traditional and religious population felt that the peace was part of the uprooting of what they felt was their sense of belonging, of their DNA, of their identity, of their narrative,” Rabbi Melchior said.
After Sheikh Abdullah’s death, Sheikh Raed took up his mantle. He worked with Rabbi Melchior to defuse another crisis in 2017, when the installation of metal detectors at the entrance to the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem almost set off another uprising.
In 2020, Sheikh Raed released a lengthy religious tract that provided a theological justification for Raam’s joining an Israeli government. Several months later, Mr. Abbas joined the current governing coalition.
During the coalition negotiations, Mr. Abbas gave a televised speech in Hebrew, largely pitched at Israeli Jews, in which he called for coexistence and presented himself as a citizen of Israel. Analysts later said it played a pivotal role in positioning him as an acceptable partner for Jewish-led parties. The speech was his own, but he spoke beforehand with Rabbi Melchior about its content, both men said.
To some Palestinian citizens of Israel, Mr. Abbas is a sellout for helping put right-wing Jewish politicians in power in exchange for what critics perceive as only token victories.
Ayman Odeh, the leader of the left-wing party Hadash, said Mr. Abbas’s approach was transactional, positioning Palestinian citizens of Israel as servants and subjects instead of as true citizens with collective rights.
“I don’t want to work as a politician under a Jewish supremacy,” said Mr. Odeh, whose party includes a mix of Arabs and Jews. “I fight for deep equality on both a civil and national level between the two peoples.”
But to advocates like Sheikh Raed and Rabbi Melchior, Mr. Abbas’s decision was a hopeful byproduct of a long process of religious peace-building that seeks to place Palestinians and Israelis on a more equal footing, and which political leaders would do well to amplify.
“If the religious element is not inside the peace camp, and not included fully, it just won’t happen,” Rabbi Melchior said. “I, for one, do not want to exclude the secular — not from our society and not from the peacemaking,” he added. “I just want to expand that sense of peace.”
SAN FRANCISCO — When India’s government ordered Facebook and other tech companies to take down posts critical of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic in April, the social network complied on some posts.
But once it did, its employees flocked to online chat rooms to ask why Facebook had helped Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India stifle dissent. In one internal post, which was reviewed by The New York Times, an employee with family in India accused Facebook of “being afraid” that Mr. Modi would ban the company from doing business in the country. “We can’t act or make decisions out of fear,” he wrote.
Weeks later, when clashes broke out in Israel between Israelis and Palestinians, Facebook removed posts from prominent Palestinian activists and briefly banned hashtags related to the violence. Facebook employees again took to the message boards to ask why their company now appeared to be censoring pro-Palestinian content.
“It just feels like, once again, we are erring on the side of a populist government and making decisions due to politics, not policies,” one worker wrote in an internal message that was reviewed by The Times.
inflammatory posts from former President Donald J. Trump. But since Mr. Trump left office in January, attention has shifted to Facebook’s global policies and what employees said was the company’s acquiescence to governments so that it could continue profiting in those countries.
“There’s a feeling among people at Facebook that this is a systematic approach, one which favors strong government leaders over the principles of doing what is right and correct,” said Ashraf Zeitoon, Facebook’s former head of policy for the Middle East and North Africa region, who left in 2017.
Facebook is increasingly caught in a vise. In India, Russia and elsewhere, governments are pressuring it to remove content as they try to corral the platform’s power over online speech. But when Facebook complies with the takedown orders, it has upset its own employees, who say the social network has helped authoritarian leaders and repressive regimes quash activists and silence marginalized communities.
BuzzFeed News and the Financial Times earlier reported on some of the employee dissatisfaction at Facebook over Israeli and Palestinian content.
A divide between Facebook’s employees and the global policy team, which is composed of roughly 1,000 employees, has existed for years, current and former workers said. The policy team reports to Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer.
many tricky international situations over the years, including in Russia, Vietnam and Myanmar, where it has had to consider whether it would be shut down if it did not work with governments. That has led to the employee dissent, which has begun spilling into public view.
That became evident with India. In April, as Covid-19 cases soared in the country, Mr. Modi’s government called for roughly 100 social media posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to be pulled down. Many of the posts included critiques of the government from opposition politicians and calls for Mr. Modi’s resignation.
Facebook removed some of the posts and briefly blocked a hashtag, #ResignModi. The company later said the hashtag had been banned by mistake and was not part of a government request.
But internally, the damage was done. In online chat rooms dedicated to human rights issues and global policy, employees described how disappointed they were with Facebook’s actions. Some shared stories of family members in India who were worried they were being censored.
Last month, when violence broke out between Israelis and Palestinians, reports surfaced that Facebook had erased content from Palestinian activists. Facebook’s Instagram app also briefly banned the #AlAqsa hashtag, a reference to Al Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. Facebook later explained that it had confused the #AlAqsa hashtag with a Palestinian militant group called Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.
Understand the Covid Crisis in India
Employees bristled. “We are responding to people’s protests about censoring with more censoring?” one wrote in an internal message, which was reviewed by The Times.
Nick Clegg, who leads public affairs, to explain the company’s role in removing content tied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to attendees. The employee called the situation in Israel “fraught” and asked how Facebook was going “to get it right” with content moderation.
Mr. Clegg ran through a list of policy rules and plans going forward, and assured staff that moderation would be treated with fairness and responsibility, two people familiar with the meeting said. The discussion was cordial, one of the people said, and comments in the chat box beside Mr. Clegg’s response were largely positive.
But some employees were dissatisfied, the people said. As Mr. Clegg spoke, they broke off into private chats and workplace groups, known as Tribes, to discuss what to do.
Dozens of employees later formed a group to flag the Palestinian content that they said had been suppressed to internal content moderation teams, said two employees. The goal was to have the posts reinstated online, they said.
Members of Facebook’s policy team have tried calming the tensions. In an internal memo in mid-May, which was reviewed by The Times, two policy team members wrote to other employees that they hoped “that Facebook’s internal community will resist succumbing to the division and demonization of the other side that is so brutally playing itself out offline and online.”
One of them was Muslim, and the other was Jewish, they said.
“We don’t always agree,” they wrote. “However, we do some of our best work when we assume good intent and recognize that we are on the same side trying to serve our community in the best possible way.”
Mr. Dermer, now a private citizen but still a confidante of Mr. Netanyahu’s, said the Biden administration was “engaged in an accommodation of Iran at best, and appeasement of Iran at worst.”
“It’s disastrous for Israel’s national security,” he added.
During his joint appearance with Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Blinken said the administration was “consulting closely with Israel, as we did today, on the ongoing negotiations in Vienna around a potential return to the Iran nuclear agreement, at the same time as we continue to work together to counter Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region.”
With a fifth national election in two years possible in Israel, the long-embattled Mr. Netanyahu’s days in power may be numbered. But David Makovsky, the director of the Koret Program on Arab-Israel Relations at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said he sees no immediate successor to Mr. Netanyahu who is more amenable to the nuclear deal.
Mr. Makovsky said Israeli officials hope to avoid the acrimony with Washington that characterized Mr. Obama’s nuclear talks with Iran. Mr. Netanyahu openly denounced the deal as lacking sufficient limits on Iran’s nuclear activity, in part because many restrictions phase out after a decade, and as failing to address Iran’s support of anti-Israel proxies like Hamas and Lebanon-based Hezbollah.
But he added that Israeli officials have grown skeptical of talk from Mr. Blinken and other Biden officials about a potential “longer and stronger” deal that would address Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for proxies.
The prospects for a revived nuclear deal not only hinge on negotiations in Vienna, but on electoral politics in Tehran, where a list of seven contenders for the presidential elections next month was announced Tuesday by a panel of clerics that vets the candidates.
Two associates of President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who was an architect of the original nuclear deal, were disqualified from the final list on Tuesday, virtually guaranteeing that the next president will be a conservative hard-liner closely aligned with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The candidate most favored to win is Ebrahim Raisi, the head of the judiciary.
JERUSALEM — Israel will launch a “very powerful” response to any new attacks by Hamas militants, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Tuesday, thanking the United States for bolstering his country’s air defenses during a visit by the top American diplomat that sought to promote peace.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, in his first trip to the Middle East during the Biden administration, was met by a country on edge following more than 10 days of war with Hamas that ended with a tenuous cease-fire late last week.
In brief but blunt comments after their private meeting, Mr. Netanyahu said he was grateful that the Biden administration consistently affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself after coming under rocket attack by militants in the Gaza Strip. He said he and Mr. Blinken had discussed how to curb Hamas, which controls Gaza, and how to help rebuild and otherwise improve the lives of the two million Palestinians who live there.
“If Hamas breaks the calm and attacks Israel, our response will be very powerful,” Mr. Netanyahu told reporters after the meeting, standing next to Mr. Blinken.
77,000 people who were forced from their homes during the hostilities and are sheltering in schools maintained by the United Nations.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been cut off from electricity and clean water, and pockets of Gaza have been reduced to piles of rubble after nearly two weeks of Israeli airstrikes.
rebuild our relationship” with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority. He was to meet later Tuesday in Ramallah with President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh of the Palestinian Authority.
In seeking to prop up the authority, the Biden administration aims to sideline Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, which the United States considers a terrorist organization. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are bitter political rivals, and it is far from assured that the militants will cede any of their grip over Gaza.
In a series of discussions with Mr. Blinken throughout the afternoon, Mr. Netanyahu and other Israeli officials also homed in on what they described as another urgent threat to their stability: Iran.
With American and Iranian diplomats separately meeting with world powers in Vienna, officials have in recent days noted progress in negotiations to bring both sides back into compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal.
the Trump administration jettisoned in 2018, in hopes of imposing stricter limits on Iran’s nuclear, missile and military programs.
Mr. Netanyahu said the original deal “paves the way for Iran to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons.”
riots erupted at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Islam.
“We believe that Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely to enjoy equal measures of freedom opportunity, and democracy, to be treated with dignity,” Mr. Blinken said.
“Healing these wounds will take leadership at every level of society,” he said.
As a candidate, Mr. Biden had said there would be “no more blank checks for Trump’s ‘favorite dictator’” — meaning Mr. el-Sisi, whose increasing authoritarianism has drawn widespread criticism. Though the Egyptian president was the first Arab leader to congratulate Mr. Biden after the election, Mr. Biden waited until last week to return the call.
But after that chilly start to their relationship, Egypt has sought to capitalize on the Gaza crisis to shore up its ties with the new administration. Mr. Blinken will meet Mr. el-Sisi in Cairo, providing the Egyptian leader an opportunity not only to reaffirm his nation’s the relationship with the United States but also to promote Egypt’s status as a regional power broker and leader among Arab countries.
Though that status has been fading for years as Egypt fell into domestic turmoil and wealthier Arab states asserted themselves in the region, Cairo enjoyed mostly smooth relations with Washington in recent years until the arrival of the Biden administration, which has put human rights at the center of its foreign policy strategy.
The administration, however, has not fundamentally changed the terms of the relationship with Cairo, which centers on the $1.3 billion in military aid Egypt receives each year from the United States, a historical byproduct of its agreement to make peace with Israel in 1979. The State Department approved a $197 million arms sale to Egypt in February, around the same time that Egypt arrested the cousins of an Egyptian-American dissident, Mohamed Soltan, in what Mr. Soltan said was a bid to pressure him to stop criticizing it.
The conflict also could serve to continue repairing the relationship between the United States and Jordan that had been largely shelved during the Trump administration. At least two million Palestinian refugees live in Jordan, and its Hashemite monarchy is the custodian of the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Islam.
Mr. Blinken’s visit comes at a fraught time in Israeli politics, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heading a caretaker government that could be in its last days, after four inconclusive elections in two years, and with no clear picture of what lies ahead.
Experts in the region said Mr. Blinken would have to maneuver carefully between expressing his administration’s unwavering support for Israel and its security while not handing over any gifts that could be perceived as intervening in Mr. Netanyahu’s domestic predicament.
Israel, a small country surrounded by adversaries and locked in conflict with the Palestinians, depends absolutely on American diplomatic and military support. By giving it, the United States safeguards Israel and wields significant leverage over its actions.
That’s the conventional wisdom, anyway. For decades, it was true: Israeli leaders and voters alike treated Washington as essential to their country’s survival.
But that dependence may be ending. While Israel still benefits greatly from American assistance, security experts and political analysts say that the country has quietly cultivated, and may have achieved, effective autonomy from the United States.
“We’re seeing much more Israeli independence,” said Vipin Narang, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology political scientist who has studied Israeli strategy.
nearly $4 billion, it was closer to one percent.
Washington underscored its own declining relevance to the conflict last week, calling for a cease-fire only after an Egyptian-brokered agreement was nearing completion, and which Israeli leaders said they agreed to because they had completed their military objectives in a ten day conflict with Gaza. Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken will visit the region this week, though he said he does not intend to restart formal Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Democrats and left-wing activists, outraged over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and bombing of Gaza, are challenging Washington’s long-held consensus on Israel.
Yet significant, if shrinking, numbers of Americans express support for Israel, and Democratic politicians have resisted their voters’ growing support for the Palestinians.
The United States still has leverage, as it does with every country where it provides arms and diplomatic support. But that leverage may be declining past the point at which Israel is able and willing to do as it wishes, bipartisan consensus or not.
Steps Toward Self-Sufficiency
When Americans think of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, many still picture the period known as the Second Intifada, when Israeli tanks crashed through Palestinian towns and Palestinian bombs detonated in Israeli cafes and buses.
But that was 15 years ago. Since then, Israel has re-engineered the conflict in ways that Israeli voters and leaders largely find bearable.
Violence against Israelis in the occupied West Bank is rarer and lower-level, rarer still in Israel proper. Though fighting has erupted several times between Israel and Gaza-based groups, Israeli forces have succeeded in pushing the burden overwhelmingly on Gazans. Conflict deaths, once three-to-one Palestinian-to-Israeli, are now closer to 20-to-one.
At the same time, Israeli disaffection with the peace process has left many feeling that periodic fighting is the least bad option. The occupation, though a crushing and ever-present force for Palestinians, is, on most days and for most Jewish Israelis, ignorable.
missile defense technology that is made and maintained largely at home — a feat that hints at the tenacity of Israel’s drive for self-sufficiency.
“If you had told me five years ago,” said Mr. Narang, the M.I.T. scholar, “that the Israelis would have a layered missile defense system against short-range rockets and short-range ballistic missiles, and it was going to be 90 percent effective, I would have said, ‘I would love what you’re smoking.’”
mixed, and tend starkly negative in Muslim-majority societies, Israel has cultivated ties in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Even nearby Arab states, such as Jordan and Egypt, once among its greatest enemies, now seek peace, while others have eased hostilities. Last year, the so-called Abraham Accords, brokered under President Trump, saw Israel normalize ties with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Israel subsequently normalized ties with Morocco and reached a diplomatic agreement with Sudan.
“We used to talk about a diplomatic tsunami that was on its way. But it never materialized,” said Dahlia Scheindlin, an Israeli political analyst and pollster.
polls show, and growing numbers consider it a low priority, given a status quo that much of the Israeli public sees as tolerable.
“That changes the nature of the relationship to the U.S.,” Ms. Mizrahi-Arnaud said.
Because Israeli leaders no longer feel domestic pressure to engage in the peace process, which runs through Washington, they do not need to persuade the Americans that they are seeking peace in good faith.
If anything, leaders face declining pressure to please the Americans and rising demands to defy them with policies like expanding settlements in the West Bank, even annexing it outright.
Israel is hardly the first small state to seek independence from a great-power patron. But this case is unusual in one way: It was the Americans who built up Israel’s military and diplomatic independence, eroding their own influence.
Now, after nearly 50 years of not quite wielding that leverage to bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it may soon be gone for good, if it isn’t already.
“Israel feels that they can get away with more,” said Ms. Mizrahi-Arnaud, adding, to underscore her point, “When exactly is the last time that the United States pressured Israel?”
“He has a Trumpian base he can rely on — traditional, conservative, nationalistic — and his perennial question to Israelis, even when he looks bankrupt, is: ‘Who else can do it?’”
Of course, Mr. Netanyahu did not win those repetitive elections, either. He is currently on trial on corruption charges, including bribery. Political survival has become personal, his most effective means of slowing or even stopping the criminal process by somehow persuading allies to grant him immunity. He was unable to form a government after the March elections, leaving him as a caretaker prime minister with diminished legitimacy.
It is unclear, against this backdrop, what role, if any, the prime minister had in the Israeli police raids on Al Aqsa Mosque, the closing of a plaza popular with Palestinians near the Damascus Gate and the plight of six Palestinian families facing eviction in East Jerusalem — the sparks that, in the midst of Ramadan, led to the conflagration.
But it is clear that the ensuing battle benefited him politically.
“Violence returns every few years because of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank,” Ayman Odeh, the head of the joint list of Arab parties in the Knesset, said in an interview. “But the concrete reason this time is that Mr. Netanyahu is willing to burn everything to stay in power. He managed the situation in a way that led to an escalation for his benefit.”
The government insists Mr. Netanyahu did all he could to calm the situation, but finds itself confronted by an implacable enemy.
“When we create collateral damage, something we do our utmost to avoid, we feel guilty and sad,” Tzachi Hanegbi, the minister of community affairs, said in an interview. “We don’t want children killed in Gaza or elsewhere. The Hamas vision is to shoot at civilians and kill as many as possible.”
The deaths in Gaza of more than 60 children have prompted growing international outrage, including within President Biden’s Democratic Party. But Mr. Netanyahu has ridden out such surges of indignation before.
Sitting at a busy outdoor cafe and passionately discussing the news of the cease-fire with friends, Phillip Cohen, 60, an Israeli contractor, said, “It happened way too early.”
“We needed to achieve a decisive victory against Hamas — one that can really bring us greater quiet — but that unfortunately didn’t happen,” Mr. Cohen added. Pointing to the celebrations in Gaza, he said, “They were jumping for joy. They obviously have not been deterred,” suggesting the next round of violence was on the horizon.
Yaffa Balouka, 58, an officer manager, pushed back against Mr. Cohen, arguing that while she would like long-term quiet too, it was not a realistically achievable goal. “Either way, there will be another escalation or war,” she interjected. “If we can get some quiet now, we should take it.”
Others advocated a diplomatic solution and said Israel should focus less on war and more on fostering a peace process with the Palestinians. Though Israel, like the United States and much of the West, classifies Hamas as a terrorist organization, and Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, some Israelis said the government needed to undo the blockade it imposes, with Egyptian help, on Gaza.
The blockade, which Israel says is necessary to stop weapons smuggling, has contributed to an unemployment rate of around 50 percent in Gaza, where poverty is rampant.
“War is not the solution to the rocket fire,” said Assaf Yakir, 27, a political science student at the University of Haifa. He recalled feeling disillusioned after serving in the army during the conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2014.
“There was six weeks of fighting and nothing changed in the end,” he said. “It didn’t bring peace or quiet.”
As violence raged between Israeli and Hamas for 10 days, President Biden spoke with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, privately six times, conversations in which he pressed him to answer a simple question: “How does this end?”
Mr. Biden’s tactic was to avoid public condemnation of Israel’s bombing of Gaza — or even a public call for a cease-fire — in order to build up capital with Mr. Netanyahu and then exert pressure in private when the time came, according to two people familiar with the administration’s internal debates.
In private conversations, Mr. Biden and other American officials reiterated to the Israelis that they had achieved some significant military objectives against Hamas, the militant group that fired thousands of rockets at Israel from Gaza, including targeting its tunnel networks. Mr. Biden pressed Mr. Netanyahu on what his objective was, and what would allow him to say he had achieved it so that a shorter war was possible, rather than a drawn-out military conflict.
In response, according to the people familiar with the discussions, Mr. Netanyahu did not lay out specific objectives that he had to accomplish before agreeing to a cease-fire.
In his public comments, Mr. Biden refused to join the growing calls from world leaders and many of his fellow Democrats for a cease-fire, or express anything short of support for Israel’s right to defend itself.
Dennis B. Ross, who has served as Middle East envoy to three presidents, said a public demand for a cease-fire could have backfired.
“Had Biden followed that advice to call for a public cease-fire, we would not have a cease-fire right now,” Mr. Ross said. “All of this takes place in a political context as well. Had Biden responded to that, Bibi’s political need to stand up to him would have been much greater.”
Mr. Biden’s approach, he added, also sent a message to Hamas. “The more they understood we were not going to be pressuring Israel that way, the more they understood they can’t count on us stopping Israel,” he said.
At the same time, Richard N. Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, cautioned against exaggerating how much credit Mr. Biden deserved for setting the stage for a truce.
“About 90 percent of the reason for the cease-fire is that both Hamas and the government of Israel determined that prolonging the conflict didn’t serve their interests,” Mr. Haas said. “This was a cease-fire that essentially was ready to happen.”
Mr. Biden’s strategy of quiet diplomacy was intended to build credibility with the Israelis, in order to privately push them toward an end to the violence in a final conversation with Mr. Netanyahu on Wednesday. And it took into account the need to tread carefully with Mr. Netanyahu.
Aware of the mistakes made by the United States in trying to mediate the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, Mr. Biden and his team did not want the United States to become the focus of the story. Instead, Mr. Biden tried to create space for Mr. Netanyahu, whom he will need as a partner in the future in dealing with Iran, to achieve his objectives.
“Israel and the United States are going to have big things to work out, in particular Iran,” Mr. Haas said. “The president had to be careful in how he handled Bibi. Both needed to maintain a working relationship so that if and when the Iran situation moved to the front burner, they would be able to work together.”
Mr. Biden began his conversations with Mr. Netanyahu by making no demands. That helped to pave the way for a gently worded statement that came after their third phone call, in which Mr. Biden said he would support a cease-fire, but stopped short of demanding one.
In follow up conversations on Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr. Biden built up the pressure by demanding privately to Mr. Netanyahu the need for a cease-fire.
BRUSSELS — A diplomatic flurry from the White House and Europe added pressure on Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza on Wednesday to halt their 10-day-old conflict before it turned into a war entangling more of the Middle East.
President Biden spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel — their second phone call in three days — telling the Israeli leader he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire,” administration officials said. Although they portrayed the call as consistent with what Mr. Biden had been saying, his decision to set a deadline was an escalation.
And in Europe, France and Germany, both strong allies of Israel that had initially held back from pressuring Mr. Netanyahu in the early days of the conflict, intensified their push for a cease-fire.
French diplomats sought to advance their proposed United Nations Security Council resolution that would call on the antagonists to stop fighting and to allow unfettered humanitarian access to Gaza. It remained unclear on Wednesday if the United States, which has blocked all Security Council attempts to even issue a statement condemning the violence, would go along with the French resolution.
Twitter post afterward, he said, “I especially appreciate the support of our friend @POTUS Joe Biden, for the State of Israel’s right to self-defense.”
confronted Mr. Biden during his trip to a Ford plant, and pleaded with him to address the growing violence in the region and protect Palestinian lives.
Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan, who witnessed that interaction, said in an interview on Wednesday that Mr. Netanyahu’s reluctance to negotiate a cease-fire had made it harder for Democrats across the political spectrum to defend Israel’s actions.
Some saw the second phone call between Mr. Biden and Mr. Netanyahu as messaging to placate domestic constituents.
Democrats have been pushing Mr. Biden “to take a tougher line and this was his opportunity to demonstrate that he is doing so,” said Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington group that supports Mr. Netanyahu’s policies. He also said Mr. Netanyahu “does not want to give the impression that he’s been told to end this conflict before it’s the right time to do so.”
For European nations, the intensified push for a cease-fire also is based partly on political calculations.
pro-Palestinian demonstrations have sometimes turned into anti-Israeli protests and anti-Semitic attacks, including assaults on synagogues. Governments fear such protests and internal violence will worsen the longer the conflict lasts.
France is on alert for acts of Islamist terrorism, often from French-born Muslims outraged by events in the Middle East. Germany, which welcomed a million mostly Muslim migrants in 2015, is struggling to contain their anger about Israel.
At the same time, the election of Mr. Trump in 2016 also encouraged a right-wing European populism that is anti-immigration and often anti-Islamic, with a clear political identification with “Judeo-Christian values” and strong support for Israel. That is clear in France, with the far-right party of Marine Le Pen, as well as in Germany, with the far-right Alternative for Germany party.
Hugh Lovatt, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Up until now at least, there also had been a gradual de-emphasis of the Palestinian issue by governments, said Kristina Kausch, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund.
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
She attributed that de-emphasis partly to Israel’s shelved plans to annex the occupied West Bank, which Palestinians want as part of their own ambitions for an independent state, and to the 2020 Abraham Accords, Israel’s normalization of ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, all big defenders of Palestinian rights. Ms. Kausch said there had been a sense that “the Palestinian cause can be put on the back burner, that Arab countries and people don’t care anymore.”
But this new outbreak, Ms. Kausch said, hadshown “that the Palestinian cause is alive and kicking.” And no longer ignorable, at least for a while.
Julien Barnes-Dacey, director of the Middle East and North Africa program for the European Council on Foreign Relations.
At the beginning of this conflict, he said, the United States and Europe had been“largely sympathetic to the Israeli narrative, willing to give them some space to accomplish their military ambitions.”
similar two-page resolution passed by the Security Council during another fierce Gaza war in January 2009, and on which the United States abstained.
The draft resolution seeks a cessation of hostilities, humanitarian access to Gaza, the condemnation of the rocket barrages and any incitement to violence, the official said.
In Germany, traditional support for Israel and patience with its military campaign appears to be waning.
After speaking with Mr. Netanyahu on Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel “sharply condemned the continued rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel and assured the prime minister of the German government’s solidarity,” said her spokesman, Steffen Seibert.
But given the many civilian lives lost “on both sides,” Mr. Seibert said, “the chancellor expressed her hope that the fighting will end as soon as possible.”
Mr. Maas, the German foreign minister, said on Tuesday that “ending the violence in the Middle East is the first priority,” followed by political negotiations. But he also blamed Hamas for the escalation.
He appeared to be responding to domestic criticism that the government has been too lenient in the face of pro-Palestinian and sometimes anti-Semitic protests.
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung commented that Germany should “concentrate on internal affairs and reflect that the ‘welcome culture’ extended to refugees was astoundingly naïve when it came to anti-Semitism.”
The question for Germany now, the paper said, “is how do we teach those for whom a hatred of Israel is in their DNA that Israel’s security is part of their adopted homeland’s raison d’être?”
Steven Erlanger reported from Brussels, and Jim Tankersley and Katie Rogers from Washington. Michael Crowley contributed reporting from Washington.